Thursday, October 18, 2007

Fair and balanced

Today in lecture, I made an announcement about how SSDP is having a week of action to repeal the HEA Aid Elimination penalty.

I made the announcement brief but thorough: explained what it is, how it's being reauthorized, how many students have been affected, how it affects students with at least a 2.5 GPA, how low-income students tend to suffer more, how it's counterproductive.

I passed out postcards for people to fill out if they so chose to take action. After class, I collected them. Not everyone filled one out - hey, freedom of choice, it's cool - but one of the otherwise blank ones contained a message for me:

"I am all for helping people out, but you did not say anything about the other side of the issue. You need to inform us about the other side."

Me and that postcard stood a while giving each other a long, hard, bewildered look.

What is the other side of the story?

Seriously. Nothing, absolutely nothing and nobody benefits from this penalty. Well, Rep. Souder, maybe drug dealers recruiting long-term customers and salespeople, apparently recruiters for the armed forces too. Schools, economy, family, human rights, minority advancement, criminal justice & law enforcement, community health & safety, faith in the government, reducing drug abuse itself... yeah, pretty much everything else stands to lose.

There is this American myth that every issue has two sides with equally compelling arguments. Like everything's a complicated issue for which you have to consider tons of different conflicting factors. Indeed there are complexities within the drug policy issue at large - in fact, the existence of complexities prompts us to work for reform and reject zero tolerance/prohibition. The HEA Aid Elimination penalty, though? Hell, even my dad the well-meaning oldschool prohibitionist immediately understood the inherent nonsense and misguided morality of the thing.

Come on, people. 9 out of 10 dentists recommend repealing this penalty; the 10th dentist is a con artist who is not actually a dentist at all but a sadist who likes ripping out teeth with rusty tweezers and without Novocaine. Use your noggins. Sometimes you really can confidently pick a side; the issue is not always way beyond your comprehension. Must we insist on remaining disoriented in order to consider ourselves open-minded? Welcome to the post-9/11 world; this has been me ranting about my pet peeve.

Frontline Delivers the Drug War Goods

If you enjoyed The Drug Years on VH1, you’re in for a treat from the great documentarians at PBS’s Frontline.

With stories from Columbian smugglers, New York City crack middlemen, DEA officials from the last 40 years, and doctors specializing in treatment, “Drug Wars,” a website run by Frontline, chronicles drug policy with accuracy and depth. It includes interviews, research, and video clips. Here are some interesting nuggets.

Drug policy wonks sometimes talk about “black markets” created by current drug laws. Dick Gregorie, an assistant DA in Florida who has spent his career dealing with trafficked cases, explains the massive scale of illegal drug operations in this interview.
How would you describe the size, extent, parameters, of the international narcotics business?

The drug trafficking business has grown into one of the world's largest enterprises--I would say equal with the oil industry or some of the major corporations in the world.

Are you talking about cash?

We are talking about billions of dollars every year in liquid cash.

Would you say they [are] controlling some economies?

They do control economies. I would say the narcotics industry in Colombia is more cash ready than [its] government, or almost any other South American [government].

What are the mega-traffickers up against? Bill Alden began working as a narc for the DEA in the 1960s. He has a story and some thoughts from the inside:
In March, 1984, the Colombia national police along with DEA in Bogota made the Tranquilandia seizure, which was the single largest cocaine seizure of that time. It was 22,000 pounds of finished, refined cocaine. ...
Later that year, I made a presentation to the California Narcotic Officers Association in San Diego. I remember alluding to Tranquilandia, and insinuating that we might have turned a corner. I really always wanted to go back and apologize for that later on. There was no impact. Almost twelve tons of cocaine was seized, and that had absolutely no impact on the market at all, on availability. It continued just as it did, as ferocious as it was before. And then we really began to realize how big it really was.
We realized that if you could seize that amount of drugs and not have an impact on the traffic, then you better start doing something else besides focusing solely on the law enforcement aspects of the problem.
Does policy get better once the drugs hit American streets? Michael Gelacek served on the U.S. Sentencing Commission in the 1990s, which recommended to Congress that crack and powder cocaine sentencing be equalized. Under the laws of that time and today (as the recommendation was rejected), possessing a gram of crack results in a substantially longer jail sentence than possessing a gram of cocaine. He traces the origin of this unfair law.
If you go back and look at the Congressional Record, you'll see that they tossed around all kinds of numbers for ratios. They ultimately settled on a 100-to-1, and I don't remember where that came from. I think they plucked it out of the sky. They talked about 20-to-1, 50-to-1, 25-to-1. In the initial ratios between powder and crack cocaine, no one talked about 100-to-1. That came about as a one-upsman contest between the House and the Senate--who could be tougher on crack cocaine. And they both proved they could be very tough...

We know treatment works. We don't spend a lot of money on treatment. We know that education works. We don't spend a lot of money on education. One thing we know that doesn't work is incarceration. We don't cure anybody by putting them in jail. All we do is take them off the streets.
If you're wondering how much of your money goes towards these policies, Frontline has a handy chart. (17.7 Billion).
And these few bits of information barely scratch the surface of Frontline’s site. If you're interested in hard facts about drug policy, there is a ton of content here.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Stop Bush's Drug War Draft!

Check out this quote from a 2003 RAND report (PDF) commissioned by the Pentagon:
The [armed] services might be able to significantly expand their pool of potential recruits by adopting policies that target youth who plan to go to college...
Hmm. Policies that target youth who plan to go to college. I'm not sure if I can think of any of those.

Oh. Right.